By JAMIE TUCKER Consumer Technology Reporter
Do you have a virtual private network? Do you need it?
Both are great questions and over the past couple of years you’ve probably heard a lot about VPNs. If you’ve ever worked remotely on your company computer, you’ve probably used a virtual private network or VPN.
Why? Because it protects company devices from being hacked or spreading malware on the network.
But everyone should use a VPN and for other reasons too.
If you are unfamiliar with VPNs, I will explain. every device that connects to the internet has an IP address. You can see yours by searching Google for “What is my IP address”.
This shows where you are and what you are doing online to your ISP, government, and hackers.
My laptop, for example, has one IP address at a local coffee shop and a different address when I get home and connect to my WiFi network.
This presents certain security threats to your data and activity because your ISP, trackers, government and hackers can see not only your computer’s location but also its activity or where it goes online .
A virtual private network, or VPN, gives you a different IP address to hide your location. For example, even if I’m at home, connecting to a virtual private network, anyone searching or collecting data will see that my computer and my connection are in Frankfurt, Germany, or any other place in the world that I choose, provided that the VPN company has servers there.
This is especially important when working on a public Wi-Fi network, as it hides your computer from the network.
There are other advantages. Most streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify have the right to show certain movies only in certain countries.
If I connect to a virtual private network in Canada, I can watch the TV series Fargo on Netflix. If I search for it in the United States: it does not appear in the results.
Sometimes Netflix and Amazon Prime may say you are using a VPN and will block your access to content.
Another example, playing the game “name that tunes” “Heardle” from Spotify: some songs are not available in the USA but I can play the song and the game by connecting from an IP address in Germany.
There are several recommended VPN services: Express VPN, Nord and CyberGhost.
These are subscription services that work on all your devices. You connect by choosing a location and logging in. If you only work from home and have no interest in streaming content or playing games in other countries, a VPN isn’t essential.
But if you work remotely, live in an apartment, condo, or dorm, you should have a VPN and use it on your computers, phones, and tablets. I do not recommend free VPN services. Your privacy is worth paying for.